Or so I thought.
I looked up the word “overwhelmed” in the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary–the standard in book publishing–and guess what? It doesn’t exist. Then I deleted the “-ed” and searched for “overwhelm.” Here’s how Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged defines it:
- To overthrow, overturn, upset
- to cover over completely (as by a great wave) : overflow and bury beneath : engulf, submerge
- to overcome by great superiority of force or numbers : bring to ruin : destroy, overpower
- to overpower in thought or feeling : subject to the grip of an overpowering emotion
- to project over threateningly or dominatingly
My first observation: Overwhelm is a transitive verb. (Forgive the English lesson.) That means it always takes a direct object. So if I’m being overwhelmed, I’m the direct object in the sentence.
Something has overwhelmed Robin.
Or, if I don’t want to be a direct object, I can rephrase the sentence and make myself the subject, but only if I make the sentence passive.
Robin has been overwhelmed by something.
Do I really want to be passive, though? Not so much.
My second observation: In both of the above sentences, there is something doing the overwhelming. Maybe I would be better served if I could define that something. Here’s a list of the somethings in my life: My writing, my editing, my nearly-remodeled (but not quite) bathroom, my teaching, my kids’ schedules, my housework.
But wait a minute. Do any of those things truly have the power to overwhelm me? Do any of them have any power whatsoever? As much as the unfinished bathroom drives me batty, it is just a bathroom. My writing is supposed to be a joy, not my enemy. Editing—I love that. How could it overwhelm me? I’m in control of my schedule—and my kids’ schedules, too. And the housework? The dust bunnies have not taken up arms against me (allergies notwithstanding).
One could argue that I’m not in control, that those innocuous things truly do pile up and overwhelm. I’m not convinced. Which brings us to:
My third observation: Each definition of “overwhelm” gives us the image of something stronger defeating, overtaking, or destroying something weaker. Hmm. So I’m being defeated by something stronger than I am?
I am weak, but . . . I’m also a believer. And when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:10). If I had to fight in my own strength, then I’d be in trouble, but greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). Maybe I can’t take on the world by myself, but I am not fighting by myself. The Lord Himself fights for me (Exodus 14:14). And maybe sometimes I feel like I have to do this all alone, but wherever I go, the Lord goes with me. He will never leave me or forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5). What am I afraid of, when God tells me to be strong and courageous (Deuteronomy 31:6, et al)? On my own, I can do nothing, but I can do all things through Christ (Philippians 4:13).
All this brings me to:
My final observation: I am not overwhelmed. I am not defeated. I am not drowning. I may at time feels as though the world is overwhelming me, but the truth is that the Creator of the Universe is on my side, and He’s got this.
My resolution for 2015: To stop saying I’m overwhelmed and instead to speak truth, and to trust God with all of it.
Robin Patchen lives in Edmond, Oklahoma, with her husband and three teenagers. She is the author of two books, Faith House and One Christmas Eve, both Christmas stories, and a freelance editor at Robins Red Pen. Read excerpts and find out more at her website.